A Ukrainian serviceman (rear) looks at uniformed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, standing guard at a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, March 6, 2014. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
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Ukraine on Friday faced the threat of breaking apart after Crimea's parliament voted to join Russia in a sharp escalation of the worst East-West security crisis since the Cold War.The powerful speaker of Russia's house of parliament said Moscow intended to respect Crimea's "historic choice," which both Kiev's new Western-backed interim leaders and US President Barack Obama denounced as illegal. The European Union earlier firmed its resolve to impose stiff sanctions on Russia while also vowing to sign an historic trade pact aimed at pulling Kiev out of Moscow's orbit before Ukraine holds snap presidential polls on May 25 .Yet with Russian forces in effective control of Crimea -- a predominantly ethnic Russian peninsula roughly the size of Belgium and base of Kremlin's Black Sea fleet -- the threat of Ukraine's division seemed more real than at any point since Putin got parliamentary approval to use force against ex-Soviet Ukraine. European leaders -- split between hawkish eastern European states many of which were under Kremlin's zone of influence during the Cold War and big western European powers that want to limit the damage to their economic relations with Russia -- renewed a commitment to sign an EU association accord with Ukraine by May.
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